The Ottumwa Courier

April 5, 2013

Pilots to hold reunion

10th anniversary of National Air Tours to coincide with 60th annual fly-in

CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier Staff Writer

BLAKESBURG — This year’s fly-in at the Antique Airfield will become a reunion within a reunion.

Brent Taylor, chairman of the fly-in, said the 10th anniversary of the National Air Tours will be held in conjunction with the 60th annual Antique Airplane Association/Airpower Museum (AAA/APM) Invitational Fly-in from Aug. 28 to Sept. 2.

“If you go clear back in history, the National Air Tours were put on to promote aviation in the 1920s, sponsored by Ford Motor Company,” Taylor said.

Seven tours ran from 1925-31 but were halted in 1932 due to the Great Depression.

But in 2003, the Antique Airfield celebrated the 100th anniversary of flight from the time the Wright Brothers flew the first powered flight in 1903. Greg Herrick, founder of the Aviation Foundation of America and originally from Ottumwa, said the route of the planned 1932 tour had been set until the economy crashed.

“So we recreated that tour using airplanes of the same sort that had been on previous tours between 1925 and 1931,” Herrick said. “It was the recreation of the 1932 tour that never happened.”

Herrick brought his idea for a reunion of the 2003 NAT to Taylor this spring.

The NAT was Herrick’s baby, Taylor said.

“Ottumwa is, of course, the headquarters of the Antique Airplane Association and because the NAT recreated trips taken from 1925-31 ... it seems appropriate to have the reunion at the AAA,” Herrick said, “not only because it’s the leading organization for vintage aircraft in the United States, but also many people — I would say all people — on the NAT are members of that organization. Many of them will want to fly their aircraft to Ottumwa to be part of that.”

Currently, eight planes are listed on the airfield’s website as participants, but Taylor expects more will soon sign up.

“A lot of those you won’t see at other fly-ins,” he said, because of their rarity. “Several are one-of-a-kind.”

Most of the airplanes that participated in the NAT have come to the airfield at one time or another, he said, except for three. He’s hoping at least two of those will show up this year.

“Members from the west coast don’t get to see the antiques from the east coast,” he said. “More so than any other fly-in in the country, we are very specific to antique aircraft.”

The annual fly-in is a closed event to members, though, and is not an aerobatics, spectator event.

“It’s more of a convention,” he said. “It’s a by the members, for the members thing. But the town will obviously gain a lot of economic impact from it because we fill every hotel.”

Not only is this the 10th anniversary of the NAT, but 2013 marks the 60th anniversary of the fly-in and of the Antique Airplane Association’s existence.

“We’re in the process of researching aircraft and owners that were in the very first three fly-ins,” he said. “We’ve identified around 70 aircraft from the first three fly-ins and our records indicate there are 55 still in existence. We’re hopeful we can get maybe eight to 10 of those airplanes from the first three years at this fly-in this year parked together.”

Both the annual fly-in and the revival of the NATs are ways to keep history alive, he said.

“You can see aircraft in a lot bigger, fancier museums and events,” he said. “You can go to the Smithsonian and see the Spirit of St. Louis hanging there. But when you go to a fly-in like ours, you can actually hear and see one fly. Which is a better representation for history? It’s an actual living, breathing piece of history. The visual impact from something flying is a lot better than a static artifact hanging in a museum.”

The fly-in is always held during Labor Day weekend and lasts from noon Wednesday, Aug. 28, until Sept. 2. The bulk of aircraft flying in for the NAT will likely arrive sometime the afternoon of Aug. 29.

“It’s hard when you live in a place to sometimes appreciate some of the things that go on there, but Ottumwa is really the epicenter for antique airplanes in the U.S.,” Herrick said. “Bob Taylor, the founder of the organization [and Brent Taylor’s father], is a real hero among tens of thousands of people. It’s great to come back to Ottumwa; everyone has a wonderful time.”



On the web:

For more information on the National Air Tours, go to www.nationalairtour.org.

For more information on the annual fly-in, go to www.antiqueairfield.com.